Note from Doni: Please join me in welcoming our newest columnist, Melinda Kaiser-Curtis. She's an Anderson writer who happens to have cerebral palsy, and has agreed to share herself and her life with us. She invites our questions and comments and looks forward to hearing from you. Welcome, Melinda!
About me: My name is Melinda Curtis. I’m 39-years old and married. My husband's name is Geff. We have three dogs and own a home in Anderson.
I was born with cerebral palsy. The umbilical cord was around my neck and there was a lack of oxygen to my brain, which caused me to have cerebral palsy for the rest of my life.
It cracks me up when people tell me to not touch them because they might get cerebral palsy, and that I need to stay away from them. Cerebral palsy is not at all like a cold or the flu that can be passed around to people. The only way that people can get CP is if they are born with it, or if they get in a really bad car wreck and lose some of their mobility.
When I was growing up, I was a mess because I didn’t understand why I was so different from the other kids. Frankly, I hated my own body. Kids want to run and play with other kids, and I wasn’t able to do that. I was also very sick as a child and I was in the hospital a lot.
My grandma raised me for most of my life, and I had a cousin that was around for me until I was just about 7 or 8. They were very protective of me in some ways.
I lived in Redding for most of my life, and my cousin lived in the Bay Area, but he would come up on weekends to see me and make sure that I was alright. I thought of my cousin as a second dad to me because he cared about me. When I was about 10 years of age, my cousin wanted to move to England and he wanted to start his life.
I was very happy for my cousin, but I couldn't help but feel sad at the same time. We would write letters to each other and we would talk on the phone when we could, but it wasn’t the same. I also had an aunt that I adored, but she wasn't able to come around much.
This favorite aunt was a truck driver and she was also gone a lot of the time, which also made it hard for us to bond. I was sad, but I understood.
As I got into my teen years, I had no respect at all for my body. I didn’t want to be here on Earth at all.
I think what saved me was when I got into therapy. I realized that I could take care of myself, and I could even be a voice for disabled people. I really wanted people to not look at my wheelchair, but to overlook some of my disabilities and see me as the person that I wanted to become.
The best way that I could think to do that was to write about my life and to talk about what I go through in my everyday life.
I wanted to talk about what it was like to grow up with CP. A lot of people need to realize that just because a person is in a wheelchair, that they function just like everybody else, and they want to be treated like everybody else.
When I think of Disabled Awareness Month, I think that on one hand it is good because we are teaching people that we are human beings and we do have a voice.
But on the other hand, I think in some ways the month is making a big deal about people with disabilities, as if to say that we are God’s gift, which we are not.
You never see Able-Bodied Awareness Week, where everybody makes a big deal about the able-bodied, so why should we have a Disabled Awareness Month?
We are people who are trying to live our lives with a disability, but I really don’t think that we need a whole month just for us.
My idea for a better kind of Disabled Awareness Month would be to have stores and restaurants with wheelchairs that able-bodied people can use, just to see what it’s like and how it feels. And able-bodied people should be dependent on someone to help out for a day.
The reason I make these suggestions is that I think that able-bodied people can sometimes take the disabled for granted, and I wish they wouldn't.
I hope that as I write these columns, that you will keep an open mind. I hope that you might look at how you think about the disabled, and how you treat us.
I hope that you have enjoyed this first column, and that you've learned a little about me and my life. I am happy to reply to your comments and answer any questions you may have.
Thank you for reading. I'll write again soon.